By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
MANILA – The Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) has ordered the freezing of bank accounts of a peasant organization red-tagged by the government.
The order was made based on a claim by “witnesses” that the Amihan National Federation of Peasant Women is involved in the financing activities of the Communist Party of the Philippines and the New People’s Army.
Amihan is an organization of peasant women and federation of peasant women’s organizations which brings to the fore the call for genuine agrarian reform, national industrialization, and an end to all forms of exploitation and discrimination especially against women in the countryside.
Zenaida Soriano, Amihan national chairperson, denounced the freeze order saying that it was arbitrary and they were not given a chance to answer the allegations against them.
Soriano related that when one of their staffs went to the bank on June 3, she was informed that their account has been frozen for undisclosed reasons. Then on June 8, Tuesday, they received a letter from the bank with an attached notice from the AMLC. On the same day, they received a notice from the Court of Appeals informing them of an extension of the freezing of their accounts for six months.
The freeze order was issued by the AMLC on May 5, under Resolution No. TF-38, Series of 2021, pursuant to Section 11 of Republic Act 10168 or the Terrorism Financing and Suppression Act of 2012.
The freeze order included two bank accounts of Amihan, including that of its chapter in Northern Mindanao Region, and bank accounts of eight other non-government and civil society organizations based in Mindanao.
“This action of the AMLC is a big mistake and not fair,” Soriano said in a statement, adding that the decision did not go through the proper legal process as they were not given the opportunity to explain and answer the allegations.
Soriano asserted that the resolution was “based on the unfounded allegation given by two witnesses claiming to be surrenderees that we are involved in financing the activities of the CPP-NPA.”
“We do not know the witnesses and they have no connection in Amihan’s national office,” Soriano added.
Soriano said that group was established on October 26, 1986 to address the issues faced by peasant women. It currently has 19 provincial chapters in nine regions nationwide.
“For 34 years, Amihan has led and joined campaigns for free land distribution and against land grabbing, production support for farmers and fisher folk, relief and rehabilitation for victims of calamities, food security and self-sufficiency and against militarization and other forms of rights abuses in rural communities, among others,” Soriano said.
The group believes that they were targeted by President Duterte’s administration for criticizing government policies affecting the people.
Amihan, along with rice watch group Bantay Bigas, led the campaign against the Rice Liberalization Law by holding discussions and consultations with rice stakeholders, petition signing, lobbying in Congress and protest actions.
They also conducted a series of donation drives last year to help peasant families affected by the lockdown in Rizal, Bataan, Isabela, Bicol and Cagayan as well as areas gravely hit by Typhoon Rolly and Ulysses. They also conducted ‘Suplay Pang-suhay sa Kabataan sa Nayon’ which distributed school supplies to peasant and fisher folk children in Eastern Visayas, Rizal and Cavite.
Despite the services that they have extended to marginalized groups in rural areas, Amihan leaders, organizers and members have fallen victim to rights abuses including extrajudicial killings, illegal arrest and detention, red-tagging and other forms of harassment and vilification, prompting the group to launch the #DefendPeasantWomen campaign last May.
As of March this year, the group claims that of the 300 farmers killed, 42 were peasant women like Nora Apique, Lucresia Tasic, Julie Catamin and Ana Mariz Evangelista.
Because of these attacks, the group drafted a House Resolution with the office of Gabriela Women’s Party Rep. Arlene Brosas to look into the said rights violations. On May 31, the Makabayan bloc filed House Resolution No. 1812 to look into the intensifying attacks and human rights violations committed against peasant women in the country.
Meanwhile, the group vow to challenge the freeze order up to the Supreme Court and will also question the constitutionality of section 11 of RA 10168.
Soriano said this “deprives legitimate organizations like Amihan the right to due process of law especially since it grants AMLC unbridled discretion and power to freeze bank accounts on the basis of the mere say-so of individuals who are used by the government through the NTF-ELCAC in targeting red-tagged organizations, without giving the latter opportunity for notice, hearing and to confront the supposed witnesses whose testimonies were the only basis of the freeze order.”
Before Amihan, the AMLC had ordered the freezing of bank accounts and assets of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines-Haran and the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines. The AMLC also froze the accounts of peace consultant Vicente Ladlad after he was designated as a “terrorist” by the Anti-Terrorism Council.